Pontifical Council for the Family and Demography

8 April 2006

In April 2006, a letter in The Tablet from Cardinal Trujillo dismissed anxieties about the “population explosion” and gave several figures about Europe to make his argument. He advised us “to pay closer attention to the objective data given by the UN World Population Prospect”. As I have been doing this for many years I thought this was a cue for a letter. I e-mailed The Tablet but the letter was not published. Here it is:


HE Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family (Letters, 8 April) makes some telling points about the demographic changes in Europe. He calls upon us “to pay closer attention to the objective data given by the UN World Population Prospect.” For those interested in improving the conditions of our life on earth this is excellent advice.

Cardinal Trujillo has dealt effectively with Europe’s demography. Some may quibble at one or two statements, and at a few of the minor statistics, but about the general picture there is no argument: we can expect that Europe’s population will soon be declining. The UN World Population Prospect (the medium variant used by Cardinal Trujillo) gives the following figures for Europe, including Russia: 547 million in 1950; 728 million in 2000; and 653 million in 2050. Europe has a stable or declining population mostly enjoying prosperity and peace most of the time.

However, when the Pontifical Council for the Family denounces “the falsehood of the overpopulation myth”, there is a possibility that people will be misled unless the Council explains clearly which parts of the world they are considering: in Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan the demographic situation is utterly different to the situation in Europe.

South and east of the Mediterranean, due mainly to the rapid spread of western medical expertise, a dramatic population explosion is underway, frustrating all efforts to improve standards of living for many hundreds of millions. Using the UN medium variant, here are a few examples:

Nigeria had 32 million people in 1950; 117 million in 2000; and an estimated 258 million in 2050, when the population will be – in sheer numbers – increasing rapidly.

Uganda’s 5 million in 1950 had doubled twice to 20 million by 1995, and is expected to double twice again to 80 million well before 2050, when the population will be increasing very rapidly. (Uganda is the same size as the United Kingdom, and Catholics make up a third of the population.)

East of the Mediterranean the picture is much the same. For example, Iraq had a population of 5 million in 1950; 25 million in 2000; and an estimated 63 million in 2050. Afghanistan 8 million in 1950; 23 million in 2050; and 97 million in 2050. Pakistan 36 million in 1950; 142 million in 2000; and 304 million in 2050. After 2050, all these populations – in sheer numbers – will be increasing rapidly.

For the area as a whole, in rough figures, Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan had a population of 300 million in 1950. This has doubled twice since then to 1,200 million and the UN estimates it will double again to 2,400 million by 2050. That is to say, the 300 million people have increased by almost one billion (1000 million) since 1950, and will increase by more than another billion by 2050. When 300 million people increase by two billion in a century it is fair to call it a population explosion.

Few people find this demographic drama interesting, but no one who reads the figures will disagree with Cardinal Trujillo when he writes “migration towards countries offering better working opportunities will inevitably provoke cultural shock in the countries receiving these people”. This will indeed be a Krakatoa of a cultural shock.

In the meantime, whilst Europe awaits developments, anyone concerned to ease poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East will find it helpful to take the Cardinal’s advice and to read all about it in the United Nations World Population Prospects.

(Source: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision and World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 Revision, http://esa.un.org/unpp)

Gerald Danaher